Camp near Front Royal Va, Sunday June 8th 1862.
I suppose that my letters of the 26th & 28th ult have already reached you. Up to this time however I have received no return letters, although I believe I received a letter from you of the 20th ult while on board the “John Brooks” enclosing Martha’s photograph. Since the 28th I have been unable to write home for several reasons which will be detailed in the sequel of this letter. Instead of hastening on to intercept Jackson we remained at Manassas Junction two nights, not certainly because of deficiency in rations but because of McDowell most probably, who wished to bring up one or two more of his brigades. You see McDowell has no confidence in any troups but those he has had under him for a long time, and those who have long been under him are probably the least effective in his corps. At last on Thursday we received orders to proceed to Front Royal. Reveille at 3 ½ Am, breakfast eaten, and Knapsacks packed we marched to Thoroughfare Gap, a distance of 14 miles, passing through Gainseville and Haymarket. This gap I believe is on the Kittoctan Mountains, although I can not at present verify that statement. It is quite a defensible spot, and has been defended by Geary. The place is one of great natural beauty. Here a spring bursts forth from the mountain in a stream three or four inches in diameter, at a spring house by the R.R., used for what special purpose I am unable to say, unless to supply the R.R. engines. The rebels had blown up the house when they came to the gap to hunt for Geary. About four miles of this day’s journey we traveled in the cars, which did not reach the marching column till it had proceeded eight or nine miles. As it happened the cars did not help us practically at all; as we gained no time by their assistance, and were not able to march further than the gap that night. Had the cars brought us to the gap by twelve o’clock noon, we might have marched ten or fifteen miles further the same day. Slight damage had been done to the R.R. above the gap, so that the cars could not carry us further. We were accordingly up at 3 ½ Am. Friday, on the march by 5 o’clock, and near Piedmont, by Piedmont Gap, in the Rattlesnake Mountains late in the afternoon, some 13 miles distant. On this march we passed through White plains, a familiar name, and Salem, both well to do places, and sufficiently secesh, I warrant. I could hardly contain myself in passing the latter place as I saw on a piazza of a house by the side of the street four females of ages from 18 to 30, whose sour visages refused to mildew so many Penelopes weeping for their absent, wandering lovers, and refusing to be comforted. We pitched our shelter tents where we halted, and were thus protected in part from the tremendous storm which raged during the night. By the way one of the fiercest storms I ever witnessed overtook us on the march, and we halted during its continuance. Every one wrapped himself in his rubber blanket, some going to sleep. In the midst of the storm I saw Gen’l Ord ride past, soaking wet, without coat or blanket, breaking in upon the death like stillness of the scene. Reveille at 3 ½. Breakfast. To Piedmont about a mile or two distant, to draw rations – three days rations of hard bread, coffee, and sugar. Here we left our Knapsacks, expecting to see them again at night when we halted. Taking only our rubber blankets our brigade, as also that of Duryea and Rickett’s set out for Front Royal, which place we reached late P.M. having marched about twenty one miles. The road on this day’s march was terrible for the greater part of the way, and we forded some half a dozen small runs, at last striking the R.R. which we did not leave till we were past the famous Manassas Gap. The country around this Gap is very fine. Perhaps a fine land is to found here as anywhere in Virginia. The mountains are around you for miles before you are actually in the Gap. While marching upon the R.R., our eyes were attracted by a beautifully laid out flower garden, of nearly an acre in extent all blooming with flowers. The walks were lined with box (box is a small evergreen shrub-B.F.) which grew in great luxurience. A second view showed us that weeds were growing among the flowers and in the paths. The owner has gone to the war I said, and his garden is neglected. But suddenly the burned dwelling of the proprietor of this splendid farm of which the garden was but a part and sample came into view, showing plainly that an uncompromising Union man had found the place too hot for him to live in. The R.R. about the Gap is a splendid specimen of R.R. engineering. For miles and miles it is constructed on raised ground, or carried through rocky hills at immense expense of time and labor. Yet there is not a tunnel the whole route. In some places the road is fully two hundred feet above the valley on Either side, and the descent is very steep. In other places the rocky cliff towers above you to an almost equal height.
Almost in the very gap the rebels had striven to destroy the rail-road, but with very poor success. They had ripped up the track sleepers all in one piece some 150 feet long, and cast it over the side of the track expecting it to fall to the bottom of the declivity. The piece however had stopped in its careen after a few somersaults. Our advanced guard upset two or three platform baggage cars down the declivity so that they might not impede the march of the regiments behind. My company on the march was a part of the advanced guard as it was to go on grand guard at the end of the march. But as we marched to a position within Gen’l Shield’s line of pickets we were not called upon to do service that night. It was about 10 P.M. before we found this out, the rain falling heavily all the time. The rain continued all night over our devoted heads, blanketless, overcoatless, tentless. The next day Sunday we changed the position of our camp, the rails in the vicinity having been exhausted of course it rained heavily, but in an intermission of glorious sunshine, the red flag of Gen’l Shields was seen coming near to us on the Strassburgh road. We rushed to the fence in order to give the hero of Winchester, his arm yet in a sling, such a reception as is seldom accorded to a military man. His face glowed with proud joy as he doffed his hat, and waved it with his remaining hand to the soldiers who shouted at his coming. About half an hour after Maj. Gen’l McDowell passed down the road, but I did not hear a cheer, though many curses. It was said that Shields would have cut off Jackson by crossing the Shenandoah at a place some ways from Front Royal, but was compelled to abandon the design by order of McDowell, who wished to have the honor himself of whipping the famous rebel general. How McDoodle, as he is called, succeeded, you will know.
The next day we crossed the Shenandoah and marched about seven miles, to within five miles of Strassburgh. The morning was intensely hot, succeeded by a storm of intense fury, which subsided into a steady rain. I cannot say why we did not go to Strassburgh, but I believe it was because a bridge had been swept away by the storm. Two more nights of rain and exposure and short rations till Wednesday when we marched back to Front Royal. Co. B. had a little variation in its usual fare Wednesday night. It was rain and picket duty; and yet one might as well stand up in the rain sheltered by his rubber blanket as lie down cold and wet to get what sleep one can have under such circumstances. Thursday morning we regained our Knapsacks, having passed five rainy nights without shelter or covering of any kind.
Perhaps this was necessary, perhaps it was conducive to the morale of the command for a Division of troups to be kept for five nights, and six days, living on hard bread and coffee, soaking in rain, without overcoats, blankets, or tents. Perhaps it was. Perhaps the reheumatism, chills, & diseases to which the soldier is heir to will not decimate the division. Perhaps the insensate lollygagging of somebody who kept us on the R.R. from Alexandria to Manassas six hours longer than was necessary, that wasted a whole day at Manassas, a second between that place and Thoroughfare Gap by delaying the cars did not occasion the escape of Jackson. Why in spite of all this delay we were not twelve hours late. It took us just seven days to proceed from Falmouth to Front Royal. The men could have performed the journey better in much less time. Let us see. We left Falmouth Sunday afternoon. The brigade should have been in Alexandria at 10 Am Monday, at Manassas at two o’clock, at Thoroughfare Gap at 3 o’clock of the same day, that is to say at Thoroughfare Gap in 24 hours. This would have been allowing a large margin for the delay in transporting large bodies of men. It takes but six hours to sail from Alexandria to Acquia Creek, and an hour or so to ride from thence to Manassas, and another hour to ride to Thoroughfare Gap which is but four miles from Alexandria. We should have then had two days rations in our haversacks. Instead of being there on Monday, we did not arrive till Thursday, about five o’clock. The rebels did not destroy the water building I believe till Thursday A.M., or Wednesday, P.M. when Shields who started from Falmouth on Saturday overland was at the heels of the rebels. Tuesday & Wednesday would have brought us to Front Royal, not without having captured small parties of sesesh. We then would have been some 48 hours ahead of Jackson, and placed him between us and Freemont and crushed him. As it was we were a half or a whole day late, perhaps I ought to say twelve hours. Shields beheld the rear guard of Jackson retreating some six miles from Front Royal on Sunday A.M. He cam Saturday P.M. but was compelled to await our coming before he could proceed with his eighteen regiments of Infantry and 36 cannon. All Sunday A.M. from day-light to noon we heard the booming of Fremont’s guns as he pursued Jackson, capturing one gun and six hundred prisoners. We with Fremont might have bagged the whole secession brood round about, but no, Mc Dowell could not act a secondary part to Fremont. Fremont outranks him. Nay more, Shields might have enclosed the rebels between his forces and Fremont’s, but no, then McDowell’s pet brigades would see no fighting, and Shields would have the praise. In fine (?) McDowell thought he had time to play his cards & trump Shields and Fremont, or he cared not whether he was in time or not, so that the game was not bagged by anybody. The disastrous result of the campaign is then doubtless due to McDowell who indeed is indirectly responsible for the rebels overrunning the valley at all and the retreat of Banks. I believe McDowell put Ord under arrest at Front Royal, one reason I think being that he took some of Shields’ rations when his own men were starving. Shields justified Ord, and an interchange of high words ensued in which McDowell probably was told one or two very unpleasant truths. While Ord was under arrest he was vigorously cheered shortly before Shields showed his face to our Division. McDowell the Chief saw and noted the respect the troups towards Ord and Shields. He alone merited and received no demonstrations of affection and respect from his exasperated command. So have affairs been conducted in McDowell’s command which has been made up out of ruins of Bank’s command, not to speak of McClellan’s.
Friday June 10th. We first arrived at this place, as I said before May 30th, then crossed the river on the 2d June, and again marched back and camped in the woods about half a mile from town on the 4th inst. The next day we regained our Knapsacks. I might as well have lost mine. Its contents were soaked in sugar and water. Water enough had passed into the Knapsack to take even the sticking quality from the mixture. I succeeded in drying its contents in two or three days, but I am sorry to say that my fine stock of needles was a total loss, every needle being rusted from point to eye. Scissors in like condition but will do. Portfolio soaked to pieces and contents destroyed. The portfolio not much of a loss, as I need none save for convenience, but the paper I liked the style of. Martha’s photograph damaged and stained, but still preserving the likeness, is good enough for a soldier. I’ll wait till I get home before asking for another from the same demoiselle to put in my yet unprojected album. In my next letter from home I shall expect to find a good darning needle, and three or four linen thread needles of the ordinary size, one at least with the eye of double or treble size like that of a darning needle. I have pins in plenty. I also want a piece of wash leather good quality, say a foot square, as I wish to make a little purse and have a piece to spare. I am in want of, or shall be pressingly, in a month’s time, of a couple of blue or grey, nice flannel shirts, and one pair of drawers, common thickness, not too thick, nor too thin, and two pair of woolen socks. These can not be procured in the army Government now furnishes nothing but cotton flannel shirts, and drawers, articles I have no desire to become acquainted with. The sutler has only shirts of a very nice quality, which are not warm enough. They can scarcely be called flannel. I have no doubt that I can find a way to get them when you have procured them. If I could get them here now, I should seize the opportunity at once, but unfortunately there is no chance here at all. So much for my private trials. Yesterday our brigade struck camp, and was in line when orders came to return again to camp. We expected to march somewhere and be on the route two days, the orders were countermanded, it is said, because the rebels were in force on the road we expected to take. We are now living on the rations issued yesterday to us, which are in our haversacks, and are to last till the morning of day after tomorrow. This letter has extended itself already to an ungainly length, although I have omitted to say much that would interest you. Tomorrow if it is pleasant I will write again. Seated in my poncho tent, just received from the sutler, impervious to rain, I bid defiance to the tempest without, and happy with plenty of money in my pocket, having been paid off up to the 1st of May, this morning, must cook my coffee for supper, as it is already past retreat. Intending to send home a saw horse in my next, somewhat recovered from the Exposure and fatigue of over a fortnight’s marching and countermarching in the rainy season, I am not yet on the sick list. Love to all. Do you send papers regularly now ? I received two or three, two or three days ago. Mails are as scarce here almost, as females.
Your Affectionate Son
John B. Noyes